Annette John-Hall: Voter ID bill fulfills its intent: Discouraging voters

Posted: March 27, 2012

Since Gov. Corbett signed Pennsylvania's voter-identification bill into law two weeks ago, Philadelphia advocacy groups have been scrambling to educate and assist voters, who will now need a state-sanctioned photo ID to vote in November.

I visited a lot of places and talked to plenty of people last week, and I can tell you this: The process is far from the smooth road proponents had predicted.

You know what a nightmare PennDot can be. Yep, bumpy, even on a good day.

Well, on the day I showed up at Eighth and Arch Streets last week, PennDot resembled a modern-day Tower of Babel - everybody talking, no one quite understanding what the other was saying.

Some folks thought they needed a photo ID in addition to a driver's license to vote, not realizing that their driver's license or passport counts as an acceptable form of ID. Others didn't realize that their ID would have to be updated to coincide with a changed name or address.

And I didn't hear one PennDot employee inform anybody of the waived $13.50 fee provision for folks who couldn't afford the identification.

That's because in order to get a free ID, people need to sign an affidavit, PennDot's Scott Shenk told me.

But how, I ask, would voters know about said affidavit if they weren't told that one exists?

"The state is starting a campaign to educate people so they know what the requirement is," Shenk said.

But he couldn't say exactly when the campaign is supposed to start.

Sounds like education needs to happen on both sides of the counter. I'm thinking more and more that this law is going to do what I suspected - suppress the vote of a certain group of citizens.

Which, of course, is the intent. I mean, after all of these years, suddenly everyone - that is, Republicans - is running around worrying about impersonation.

Law disenfranchises

Proponents say the law will disproportionately disenfranchise minorities, the elderly, the poor, and the disabled - many of whom live in Philadelphia.

Seniors and transient voters have a hard time providing a raised-seal birth certificate to fulfill the ID requirement, says Niki Ludt, director of Face to Face Legal Center, a Germantown nonprofit organization.

"Look at this," Ludt says, slamming down a huge binder full of client birth-certificate requests. That's 438 people who don't have a birth certificate, and that's just in Germantown."

Ludt says requests she made in December still have not been filled.

The problem is that poor people often move from place to place and lose track of their documentation, Ludt says. Or some older voters, especially African Americans born in the South, were never given a copy of their birth certificate. Heck, for that matter, I couldn't even tell you where my birth certificate is.

Not only that, clients find themselves trapped in a bureaucratic maze when they discover that often, in order to get their birth certificate, they must possess a current photo ID - which is the reason they needed the birth certificate in the first place.

"It's a pain, a huge obstacle," says Ludt, who is host to free monthly clinics devoted exclusively to helping folks apply for birth certificates. "You have to have your life relatively in order to get these kinds of things.

"If you don't have June or Ward Cleaver as parents, you're in trouble."

Right to vote in jeopardy

Bea Bookler, 93, is what analysts call a supervoter. She's voted in every election since 1940, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.

"I consider it a duty and privilege to vote," says the retired homemaker, who now lives in a Chester County assisted-living facility.

But for the first time, her right to vote is in jeopardy. That's because Bookler doesn't possess a photo ID. And to make matters worse, she doesn't have the copy of her birth certificate required to get an ID.

"At the time my house was sold, a lot of papers were lost," including her birth certificate, Bookler said. "I have a voter-registration card, but it doesn't have my picture on it."

Bookler's daughter, Wendy, 62, a lawyer with the Senior Law Center, says she is working to secure the proper documentation so that her mother will be able to cast a ballot in November.

"I will take her to PennDot if she's able," she says. "But she has a hard time getting around. . . . It's an iffy situation."

Bea Bookler says any voter law "should encourage people to vote, not discourage them."

A lousy payback for faithfully exercising her civic duty for the last 72 years.

Still, she says, "I'd very much like to be able to vote, because this may be my last vote."


Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter at @Annettejh.

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